H. M. (Henry Marie) Brackenridge.

History of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: online

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Newark by the Am3ricans — British Retaliation — Fort Niagara surprised — Destruction
of Lewistown, Buffalo and other places.

The glorious result of the operations of the Northwestern
army, and the splendid victory on the lake, opened the way to
a more effectual invasion of Canada. We were now in the
situation in which we should have been at the commencement
of the war, had Hull's expedition proved successful; with this
difference, however: that the British had been enabled to pro-
vide for defence, by collecting troops, disciplining militia
and fortifying the borders of the St Lawrence ; while, on the
other hand, the American force on the frontier was more formi-
dable than it liad been at any time previously during the war,
and was commanded by officers whose merits had been tried
in actual service — in addition to which, the greater part of the
neighbouring Indians had declared against the British. The
public mind was now so elated by the brilliant victories to the
westward, that it was thought the tide of fortune had at last
turned in our favour, and confidently expected that the adminis-
tration would attempt the conquest of Canada in good earnest.

At the head of the war department now, \vas a man of energy
and talents, who had resided a considerable period in Europe ;


General Wilkinson takes the chief command.

and, from the known bias of his mind to military affairs, it
was presumed that he had availed himself to the utmost of the
opportunities there within his reach of increasing his military
knowledge. Much was expected from him ; and it was soon
acknowledged tliat some improvements had been introduced
into his department. General Armstrong, knowing the san-
guine anticipations which prevailed through the country, pro-
ceeded to the nortliern frontier, with a plan of operations
digested in the cabinet, which he intended to have carrietl into
effect under his own eye. The plan, as afterwards developed,
was in itself judicious; but there was not perhaps, in its exe-
cution, sufficient allowance for a change of circumstances. Al-
though the season was far advanced, much might yet be
done: but, to satisfy the public expectations, to the extent to
which the successes of Harrison had raised them, was scarcely
possible. Little short of the complete conquest of Canada
would sufTice; while but vague ideas of the nature of the en-
terprise, and of the diffieuliies to be encountered, prevailed
through the great body of the nation. The people in this
country, like other sovereigns, regarding only the success or
failure of their agents, seldom weigh the peculiar circumstances
under whicli they may have acted. To the desire of doing
too much, may perhaps be attributed the misfortunes experi-
enced in a campaign, the chief incidents of which are now
about to be related.

On the resignation of general Dearborne, general Wilkinson
then in the southern section of the union, was appointed to
succeed him as commander-in-chief of the American forces.
Public opinion was much divided, as to some points in the pre-
vious character and conduct of this ofhcer; but it was gener-
ally admitted, that he possessed a greater share of military
science than any one in the army. 'J"he general, on taking the
command, issued an order which gave universal satisfaction ;
and it was expected that, for the sake of firmly establishing his
reputation, he would endeavour to render some signal service to
his country. The force under liis command on the Niagara,
amounted to eight thousand regulars, besides those under
Harrison,-^ which were expected to arrive in the course of the
month of October. General Wade Hampton, a distinguished

* This officer shortly afterwards retired from the army, in consequence
of being placed in an inferior command; and his services were thus lost
to the country for the remainder of the war. For the act which induced
general Harrison to take this step, the administration, and particularly
the secretary of war, were much and justly blamed.


Rendezvous of the American Forces at Grenadier Island.

revolutionary oflicer, also called from the south, was appointed
to the command of the Army of the North, then encamped
at Plattsburg, on Lake Champlain, and amounting- to about four
thousand men. As the season for military operations was
rapidly drawing to a close, it was important that no time
should be lost, and measures were immediately taken for car-
rying into effect the projected invasion. The outline of the
plan which had been adopted, was : to descend the St Law-
rence, passing the British posts with.out attempting their cap-
ture; to form a junction with general Hampton at some desig-
nated point on the river; and then with the united forces to
proceed to the Island of Montreal. After which, to use the
language of general Wilkinson, "their artillery, bayonets and
swords must secure them a triumph, or provide for them honour-
able graves." It is said that a dilference of opinion existed
between the general-in-chief and the secretary at war, on this
subject : the former not considering it prudent to leave Kings-
tun and other British garrisons in the rear ; and the latter
seeming to think, that as there was no doubt of taking Mon-
treal, all the posts on the river and lakes above that place
must fall of course. The correctness of this conclusion could
not be denied : but as there is a degree of uncertainty in every
human undertaking, it is unwise to make no allowance for
some possible failure ; except, indeed, where the party, like
Csesar, resolves to be great or dead.

The army, which had been distributed in different corps,
and stationed at various points, was now to be concentrated at
some place convenient for its embarkation. For this purpose,
Grenadier Island, which lies between Sackett's Harbour and
Kingston, was selected, on account of its contiguity to the St
Lawrence. On the 2d of October, general Wilkinson left
Fort George, with the principal body of the troops, and soon
after reached the island. Here he occupied himself inces-
santly in making preparation for the prosecution of his enter-
prise. He several times visited Sackett's Harbour, the point
at which the troops first arrived, and whence, after receiving the
necessary supplies, they proceeded to the place of rendez-
vous. Colonel Scott, whom he had left in command of Fort
George, was ordered to embark, with his regiment of artil-
lery, and colonel Randolph's infantry, and proceed to the
island; while colonel Dennis was left in charge of Sackett's
Harbour. The general having provided boats to transport the
artillery through the St Lawrence, proceeded to put his troops in
motion. By the 23d, the forces thus collected exceeded seven


General Wilkinson descends the St Lawrence.

thousand men, and were composed of colonel Porter's light
artillery, a few companies of colonel Scott's, and the whole of
colonel Macomb's regiment of artillery, twelve regiments of
infantry, and Forsyth's rifle corps. In consequence of the high
winds on the lake, which prevailed for several days, it was not
until the 25th that the army could get under weigh ; and although
the general was suffering from a disorder which rendered his
health very precarious, his anxiety induced him to superintend
the embarkation in person.

A few days before, intelligence had been received from colo-
nel Scott, that the enemy, in consequence of the departure of
the American army from Fort George, had also abandoned that
neighbourhood, and was occupied in concentrating his forces at
Kingston, in the belief that the latter place was the object of
attack. General Wilkinson, to favour this idea, fixed on French
Creek, whicli lay opposite the most proper point of debarka-
tion on the Canada side, as the place of rendezvous for the
troops after their entrance into the St Lawrence. Brigadier
general Brown, of the regular service of tiie United States,
was ordered forward to take the command of the advance of the
army at this place. On the 1st of November, a British squa-
dron made its appearance near French Creek, with a large body
of infantry, and attacked the American detachments there; but
a battery of three eigliteen-pounders, skilfully managed by cap-
tains M'Pherson and Fanning, soon forced them to retire.
The attack was renewed the next morning, but with no bet-
ter success ; and as the other corps of the army were now daily
arriving, the enemy thought proper to move ofl*. On the 6lh,
the army was embarked on the river, and in the evening land-
ed a few miles above the British Fort Prescott. After recon-
noitering the passage at this place and finding that the fort
commanded the river, general Wilkinson directed the powder
and fixed ammunition to be transported by land to a safe point
below. The troops were also debarked, and marched to the same
point; and it was determined to take advantage of the night to
pass with the flotilla, on board of which a sufficient number of
men to navigate it had been \e[\. Availing himself of a heavy
fog which came on in the evening, the commander-in-chief en-
deavoured to pass the fort unobserved ; but the weather clearing
up, and the moon shining, he was discovered and fired upon
by the enemy. General Brown, who was in the rear with
the flotilla, thought it prudent to halt, until the night should
grow darker. On the setting of the moon, he proceeded down
the river, and being again discovered, was exposed to a se-
vere cannonade of three hours. During all this time not one


Descent of the St Lawrence British harass the American Army.

out of three hundred boats suffered the slightest injury ; and
before ten o'clock of the next day, they iiad all safely arrived at
the place of destination. A messenger was now despatched to
general Hampton, informing him of the movements of the
army, and requiring his co-operation.

The enemy, having by this time penetrated the design of
the Americans, endeavoured, assiduously, to counteract it. The
descent of our troops was now found to be impeded by consider-
able bodies of the British, stationed at narrow parts of the river,
whence they could annoy our boats v»'ithin musket shot ; and
the embarrassment thus occasioned was increased by the illness
of the commander-in-chief, which had augmented in the most
alarming degree. The army was also delayed for half a day
in extricating two schooners loaded with provisions, which had
been driven into a part of the river near Ogdensburg, by the ene-
my's fire. On the 7th, in tlie morning, a corps of twelve hun-
dred men, under colonel Macomb, was despatched to remove
the obstructions to the descent of the army; and at three
o'clock he was followed by the main body. On passing the
first rapids of the St Lawrence, the barge of the commander-iur
chief was assailed by two pieces of artillery, which had not
been perceived by colonel Macomb in his march. No injury
was done except to the rigging : and the attention of the enemy
was soon diverted by lieutenant-colonel Eustis, who returned
their fire from some light barges ; while major Forsythe, land-
ing some of his riflemen, attacked them unexpectedly, and com-
pelled them to retreat. The flotilla came-to about six miles
below Hamilton ; where the general received intelligence that
colonel Macomb had routed the enemy at a block-house two
miles below, and that the dragoons attached to the first divi-
sion of the enemy had been collected at a place called the
White House, at a contraction of the river. On the arrival of
the flotilla at this place on the 8th, general Brown was ordered
to go forward with his brigade, to reinforce colonel Macomb
and to take command of the advance ; while the commander-
in-chief directed the transportation of the dragoons across the
St Lawrence. This latter business was effected during the

The British troops which had been concentrated at Kingston,
being released from the apprehension of an attack on that place,
immediately followed the American army. On the 9th, they had
so far gained upon it, that a skirmish was brought on between
the American riflemen, and a party of militia and Indians. 'J'o
be thus harassed by a large body of troops hanging on the rear of
an army, is a situation which military men have always carefully


Descent of the St Lawrence British harass the American Army.

avoided; and this, in the present case, was the necessary con-
sequence of withdrawing tlie troops from above which might
have kept the enemy in check. Had two thousand men been
stationed in the vicinity of Kingston to threaten it, the enemy
would have been compelled to retain a large force at that
place; by which means the main body of our army miglit have
passed on in greater safety. In the course of the day, the
cavalry, and four pieces of artillery under captain M'Pher-
son, were ordered to clear the coast below as far as the head
of the Longue Saut, a rapid eight miles long; and in the even-
ing the army arrived at a place called the Yellow House, which
stands near the Saut. As the passage here would be attended
with considerable difficulty, i'roni the rapidity and length of the
current, it was deemed prudent to wait until the next day ; and
in the meanwhile it became necessary to use the utmost vigi-

On the morning of the 10th, general Brown, with the troops
under his command, excepting two pieces of artillery and the
second regiment of dragoons, was ordered to continue his
march in advance of the army. A regard for the safety of the
men had induced the commander-in-chief to retain as few of
them in the boats as possible, during the long and dangerous
passage of tlie rapid, on account of the lire to which they would
be subject from the batteries which the enemy had in all proba-
bility established along it. The second regiment of dragoons,
and all the men of the oilier brigades, with the exception of a
number sufficient to navigate tlie boats, were placed under the
command of general Boyd, and ordered to prevent the enemy,
who were still hanging on the rear, from making any advan-
tageous attack. General Brown now commenced his march
at the head of his troops, consisting principally of colonel Ma-
comb's artillery, some companies of colonel Scott's regiment,
part of the light artillery, the rillcmen, and the Sixth, Fifteenth
and Twenty-second regiments. It was not long before he found
himself engaged with a strong party at a block-house near the
Saut, which, altera contest of a few minutes, was repulsed by the
riflemen under major Forsythe. In this short engagement, the
latter was severely wounded. About the same time some of the
enemy's galleys approached the flotilla, then lying at the shore,
and comnienced a Are upon it, by which a number of the boats
were injured; two eighteen-pounders, however, being hastily
placed on the land, the fire from them soon compelled the
assailants to retire. The day being now too far spent to
attempt the passage of the Saut, it was resolved to postpone it
until the following morning.


Descent of the St Lawrence Battle of Chrystler's Field.

At ten o'clock on the 11th, at tlie moment that the flotilla was
about to proceed, and when attlie same time the division under
general Boyd, consisting of his own and the brigades of generals
Covington and Swartwout, was drawn up in marching order,
an alarm was given that the enemy were approaching in co-
lumn. The commander-in-chief and general Lewis being both
too much indisposed to take the command, general Boyd was
ordered to face about and attack the advancing foe. The
enemy's galleys were at the same time coming down, for the
purpose of assailing the rear of tlie American flotilla. General
Boyd now led on his detachment formed in three columns, and
ordered a part of general Swartwout's brigade to move forward
and bring the enemy into action. Colonel Ripley, accordingly,
at the head of the Twenty-first regiment, passed the wood which
skirts the open ground called Chrystler's Field, and drove in
several of the enemy's parties. On entering the field, he met
the advance of the British, consisting of the Forty-ninth and the
Glengary regiments ; and immediately ordered a charge. This
was executed with such surprising firmness, that these two re-
giments, nearly double his in number, retired precipitately; and
on making a stand, were a second time driven before tlie bayo-
net, and compelled to pass over the ravines and fences by which
the field was intersected, until tliey fell on their main body.
General Covington had, before this, advanced upon the right,
where the enemy's artillery was posted ; and at the moment that
colonel Ripley had assailed the left flank, he forced the right
by a determined onset. Success appeared scarcely doubtful ;
when, unfortunately, general Covington, whose activity had
rendered him conspicuous, became a mark for the sharp-
shooters which the enemy had stationed in Chrystler's house,
and was shot from his horse. The fall of this gallant officer
arrested the progress of the brigade ; and the artillery of the
enemy threw it into confusion, and caused it to fall back in dis-
order. The British commander now wheeled part of his line
into column, with the view of capturing some pieces of artillery,
which were left unprotected by the Americans. A body of dra-
goons, under adjutant general Walbach, attempted, in a very gal-
lant manner, to charge the British column ; but from the nature of
the ground were not successful. At this critical moment, colo-
nel Ripley, who had been engaged with the enemy's left flank,
threw his regiment between the artillery and the advancing
column, and frustrated their design. The British fell back with
precipitation. The American regiments which had broken had
not retired from the field, but still continued to maintain an irre-
gular fight with various success. The Twenty-first having by


General Hampton declines co-operation with General Wilkinson.

this time expended its ammunition, and being in an exposed
situation, was withdrawn from the position in which it had
been placed by colonel Ripley ; and the enemy again attempted
to possess themselves of the artillery. One piece was unfor-
tunately captured by them, in consequence of the death of lieu-
tenant William S. Smith, who commanded it: the rest were
brought off by the coolness and bravery of captain Armstrong
Irvine. The action soon after ceased, having been kept up for
two hours by undisciplined troops against an equal number of
veterans. The British force consisted of detachments from
the Forty-ninth, Eighty-fourth, and One hundred and fourth
regiments of the line, and of three companies of the Voltigeur
and Glengary corps. The enemy soon after retired to their
camp, and the Americans to their boats.

In this battle the loss of the Americans amounted to three
hundred and thirty-nine wounded, and one hundred and two
killed. Among the killed were lieutenants Smith, Hunter and
Holmstead: among the wounded, were general Covington, who
died two days afterwards ; colonel Preston ; majors Chambers,
Noon and Cummings ; captains Tov/nsend, Foster, Myers,
Campbell and Murdock; and lieutenants Heaton, Williams,
Lynch, Pelham, Brown and Creery. The British loss could
not have been less than that of the Americans.

Both parties claimed tl'te victory on this occasion : but it was
properly a drawn battle ; the British retiring to their encamp-
ments, and the Americans to their boats. Perhaps, from the
circumstance that the enemy never a<rain assailed the Ameri-
can army, it may be assumed, that they were defeated. Ge-
neral Brown had, in the meanwhile, reached the foot of the
Rapid, and awaited tlie arrival of the army. On the 11th,
the army proceeded on its route, and joined the advance near
Barnhart. At this place, information was received which at
once put an end to the further prosecution of the design on

On the 6th, a few days before the battle of Chrystler's Field,
the commander-in-chief had sent orders to general Hampton,
to meet him at vSt Regis. A letter in reply was received from
general Hampton, in which he staled, that owing to the dis-
closure of the scantiness of general Wilkinson's supply of
provisions, and the condition of the roads to St Regis which
rendered it impossible to transport a quantity greater than
could be carried by a man on his back, he had determined to
open a communication with the St Lawrence at Coghnawago.
About the lime that general Wilkinson was concentrating the


General Hampton descends the Chateaugay River Retreats.

army at Grenadier island, preparatory to the descent of tlie
St Lawrence, general Hampton, with a view to a readier
co-operation in the contemplated attempt on Montreal, had de-
scended tlie Chateaugay river from Plattsburg, with the forces
under his command. The British general, perceiving this move-
ment towards Montreal, had collected all liis force to oppose it.
On tlie 21st of October, General Hampton found his road ob-
structed by fallen timber, and ambuscades of ihe enemy's militia
and Indians. A w^ood of considerable extent lay in advance,
through which it was necessary to pass ; and while the engineers
were engaged in cutting a way through, colonel Purdy, with the
light troops and one regiment of the line, was detached, with
directions to turn the enemy's flank, and then seize on the open
country below. In this he succeeded, and the army by the
next day reached the position of the advance. About seven
miles further on the route, was another wood, which the enemy
had felled and formed into an abatis, and tilled \vith a suc-
cession of breast-works, the rearmost of which was well sup-
plied with artillery. General Prevost was understood to have
command of the forces which had these works in charge. On
the 25th, colonel Purdy, with the first brigade, was ordered to
cross the river and march dov/n on the opposite side, until he
should have passed the enemy, when he was to re-cross and
attack him in his rear; whilst the brigade under general Izard
would assail him in front. Colonel Purdy accordingly crossed
the river; but he had not marched far, when his orders were
countermanded. On his return, he was attacked by the enemy's
infantry and Indians ; and repelled them, after a short contest
in which they threw his column into some confusion. At the
same moment they came out of their works in front, and at-
tacked general Izard, but were soon after compelled to retire
behind their defences. General Hampton, now receiving in-
formation that the enemy were obtaining accessions continually,
resolved, by the advice of his officers, to retreat to a position,
which he had occupied some days before, called the Four Cor-
ners. Here he arrived on the last day of the month. The
British claimed a victory for tliis affair; which, they said, was
gained with a very inferior force. It was not, however, the
intention of general Hampton to penetrate to Montreal, but
merely to divert the attention of the British from the army of
general Wilkinson. Having accomplished this object, he fell
back to a position whence he could, with greater facility, make
his way to some point on the St Lawrence. It was then that,
in reply to the order of the commander-in-chief, he despatched


American Armies go into Winter Quarters Failure of the Expedition.

the letter already mentioned, stating the impracticability of a
compliance with it. On the receipt of general Hampton's com-
munication, a council of the principal officers was called, at
which it was determined that the objects of the campaign were
no longer attainable. It was therefore resolved that the army
should quit the Canadian side of the St Lawrence, and retire
into winter quarters at French Mills on Salmon river. Gene-
ral Hampton, with his troops, soon after followed this example ;
and, in consequence of indisposition, resigned the command of
them to general Izard. Tluis terminated a campaign, the issue
of which gave rise to dissatisfaction proportioned to the sanguine
anticipations which had been indulged.

This unexpected turn of aflairs appeared to cast a shade
upon all the brilliant successes which had preceded. Much
diversity of opinion prevailed as to the causes of the failure,
and the parties who ought to bear the blame. General Wil-
kinson, after the disappointment which he met with in his rein-
forcement and supplies, could not perhaps with prudence have

Online LibraryH. M. (Henry Marie) BrackenridgeHistory of the late war between the United States and Great Britain: → online text (page 18 of 32)